What does it mean to gather unto the Lord’s name?
(See Matt. 18: 19, 20)
The teaching of this passage is most profound, and yet at the same time, beautifully simple. Sadly, like everything else he has put his hand to, man has spoilt it. Some have made it into a kind of party badge, and thus narrowed its scope to their own little insular circle. Others have so watered down its meaning that it can be used to sanction all manner of dubious comings together by professing Christians. As a point of fact, Matt. 18: 20 does not even refer to the local assembly. We get the assembly mentioned in verse 17, but in verse 19 it is “if two of you” and in verse 20, “Where two or three”. The Assembly as such is not in view. It is simply two or three persons come together for prayer.
Furthermore, the promise of Matt. 18: 20 does not apply to any two or three. People sometimes quote the passage as “Where two or three are gathered together there am I in the midst of them”, forgetting the all–important words “unto my name”. The verse is not talking merely about a company of saints, but a company of saints gathered to His name. So what then did the Lord mean by this phrase “unto my name”?
It is self––evident that to gather unto the Lord’s name implies the Lord’s absence. He is no longer here. Thus in 3 John 7 we read of those who for the name had gone forth––working on the Lord’s behalf in His absence. When the Lord was here, the apostles were able to gather to Him personally (see Mark 6: 30). In His absence, His name becomes the gathering point instead: “where two or three are gathered together unto my name” (Matt. 18: 20, my emphasis) until all are gathered together to Christ Himself at His coming (2 Thess. 2: 1)
Yet why is the Lord absent? He is absent because the world has thrust Him out (Luke 19: 14). Furthermore, having got rid of Christ, the world also wants now to be rid of His name (see Psalm 41: 5). The thought behind gathering unto the Lord’s name is thus that of collective allegiance to an absent Lord in a hostile scene. An example from the OT may help. In 1 Sam. 22 David is a fugitive from Saul. The scene is a contrary one, yet there are those who are prepared to own their allegiance to the future king: “And every one in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one of embittered spirit collected round him; and he became a captain over them” (v2).
Gathering to David was, of course, merely a physical matter. Gathering to the Lord’s name, by contrast, involves our spiritual state. This must be so, for where saints have truly come together in this way, then the Lord promises to be with them. We are not, as some mistakenly believe, gathered to Christ’s name simply by asserting that we are so gathered! Spiritual conditions must be right. That is why, for example, it does not just say “Where two or three are gathered …”, but “Where two or three are gathered together unto my name there am I in the midst of them” (my emphasis). We cannot claim the Lord’s promise if we are at elbows length with one another!
Furthermore, gathering unto the Lord’s name involves accepting His absolute authority. It says of David in regard to those gathered to him that “he became a captain over them” (1 Sam. 22: 2)––they accepted his authority over them. In everyday life, to gather in the Queen’s name would imply that our behaviour would be governed as if she was there. How much more so with the Lord of Glory! He is absent, but we are to conduct ourselves as if He were present. A practical example would be unswerving obedience to Scripture––His Word. “Ye call me the Teacher and the Lord, and ye say well, for I am [so]” (John 13: 13). Let us never forget it!
Finally, as He is Lord, He has an exclusive title to be the centre of attention in the gathering––it is unto His name. Many equate “going to church or meeting” with gathering to Christ’s name, but this is wide of the mark. Gathering to His name is more than merely assembling in a religious way––it necessitates Christ’s name being the exclusive focus of gathering. He will brook no rival, for He is a jealous God. Moses and Elijah must pass out of sight––it must be “Jesus alone” (Matt. 17: 8). The simple teaching of the passage before us is that if we are willing to give the Lord that central place in our gathering, then He, ever willing to respond to affection, will take up that place: “ … there am I in the midst of them”.